Why does December wreak havoc on our mental health?
When you were younger, December was a time of pure, unbridled enthusiasm. The joy and excitement were palpable.
In fact, if excitement were holiday food, it would be handfuls of multi-colored sprinkles.
When you were younger, the holidays could never come fast enough.
Time seemed to stand still as you waited for time off from school, time with family members you didn't see very often, and--most important of all--presents. Free stuff that you would play with nonstop until you imploded with childish glee.
This was your time, and you were going to make the most of it.
And mental health? If you even had the words to describe your feelings, your emotional wellness was the farthest thing from your mind.
Things are different now. December is a difficult month for mental health.
As you get older, times change. Interests change.
And as you move into college and then into the working world, stress compounds until you reach the optimal, fully-formed state of adulthood: fully responsible for your own life and fully overwhelmed.
You would think that holidays would always remain the time for relaxation, for basking in the soporific splendor of good food and good company.
But that's not the case.
With holidays comes big expectations--along with big questions, big comparisons, and big feelings.
What are you doing now?
Are you dating anyone?
Why isn't so-and-so here?
Do you have a job yet?
And on and on until you want to escape from the interrogation session dressed up as a holiday party.
It can all get to be way too much for your mental health to handle
Family members think they are being helpful and considerate when they rapid-fire questions at your face, but they aren't always well received.
Holidays are the time to touch base, to catch up after long hiatuses of the raucous rock group called "family." You know the group can put on a pretty good show, but the feelings start to sour after a few days on tour.
It's no one's fault. Most families don't get a very good education in processing their emotions. So, when family members get together who don't get to be together very often, big emotions manifest in questions, comments, gestures.
You know that the question "So, what are you going to do next?" seems innocuous on the surface.
But dig a bit deeper, and you're liable to think, What's wrong with what I'm doing now? I wasn't even thinking of a next thing--why are you?
For most people, this back-and-forth never gets out into the open, and tensions increase.
Which is why you turn to any form of escape to make it more manageable--to alcohol, to over-eating, to telling awkward, inappropriate jokes. You know you are guilty of one of them.
Holidays are tough because we don't often treat people as they are, we treat them as we are. We project our thoughts and feelings in the hope that we can quickly catch up with them and display our worth through our advice and well wishes.
It all seems so lovely and innocent.
But still, the December of today is not the December of your youth. You struggle. You hope to appease everyone while being kind to yourself, but those ideas seem to be mutually exclusive.
In December, with some of the biggest holidays and family-gathering times of the year for most people, you try to be everything to everyone. But that's impossible. And your mental health suffers as a result.
You'd be much better off if you learned some lessons from your younger, egomaniacal, over-excited, little-kid self
1. Take your time back.
Be excited about what you're doing for you. Paradoxically, we become so focused on pleasing everyone during the holidays that we forget to care for ourselves. Take your time back by choosing some activities that you know will make you happy and pursue them with reckless abandon.
Of course, be considerate to others, but approach your time--and your life--with the excitement you did as a child.
2. Live in the moment.
All kids are tiny buddhas. They see everything with wondrous excitement. They explore, they run around, they climb trees, and they ride their bikes and crash them into other trees. And then they bounce up from the ground and do it all over again.
Channel some of the feeling you had when you were a kid by focusing on the moment, focusing on only what you can control.
3. But also step back and appreciate the time that you have.
When you were a kid, you wanted the time to speed up so that you could get to your favorite parts--to presents, to eating good food, to seeing your family and friends.
When you get older and have innumerable responsibilities, you get stuck in how much you have to do and forget to remember that this life is precious. Time goes by quickly, and this is especially true as you get older.
Savor it. The rock band might be getting together for one of its last tours. You never know what could happen in the next year or so.
If you still find holidays tough, know that these too will pass. Holidays come and go. Family and friends gather, and then they leave.
If you are struggling, know there are others struggling, too. December is a tough month. But you're in it. You're experiencing it. It may not be what you want at this moment, but know that the feelings you have are shared by many.
Remember, it's the wild times that shape your perspective and help you better understand the calmer times. To get where you're going, you need a reference point to point you in the right direction.